The Wretched Beginning of Donald Trump’s Presidency

Punishing innocent immigrants, a disastrous Yemen raid, and coddling police

by , February 16, 2017

Maybe Donald Trump is a different kind of politician. Maybe he will keep his promises. Unfortunately, since January 20, Trump has pursued a nasty collection of priorities. Any hope that the political newbie would be dazed and timid in his first 100 days went out the window after his clunky, legally-dubious executive order stopping immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries – all of which have been messed up by the US – turned airports across the US into chaotic scenes of protest, and brought about multiple lawsuits.

But Trump didn’t just declare his intention to deport and ban wide swaths of people. He also has a wall to build. There’s still time to stop that, and Trump won’t be bringing steel back to Pittsburgh, or any of the other time-traveling protectionist economic promises he made. Trump may well be able to stop the progress of criminal justice reform, however, and make our immigration system even more cruel. He’s made a hell of a start in his first few weeks in office, not just because innocent people are already being ripped away from their families (not that that is new US policy; President Obama in particular will never get the anti-humanitarian credit he earned for war and for immigration policy in his eight years).

During the election, building a wall and making Mexico pay for it was Trump’s most popular refrain. But one of his minor hits was the statement that police officers "are the most mistreated people in America." This is patently absurd. Every year, US police kill more people than can be reliably counted. During the last few years, people have finally started to attempt to get an accurate number, and it appears to be somewhere around 1000 people. Meanwhile, the number of cops being shot by assailants increased during the last two years. The increase was practically inevitable, however, because it was coming off of a historic low of 35 US police officers killed by homicide in 2013. The numbers were much higher in the past, especially during the ‘30s and ‘70s, back when the population of the US and the number of police officers was much lower.

Furthermore, based on decades of court decisions and societal respect for police ingrained by schools, parents, and government programs, law enforcement continues to be excessively trusted. When police are actually charged with murder or similar by a DA or grand jury, they are rarely convicted. Juries appear unwilling to hold police to the high standards that they claim to have for themselves. And the privileges cops have are not small; they are life and death, and theft and violations of privacy.

The militarized police force in America has been fed a line for decades that they are at war, be it against drugs, terrorism, or gang violence. They are told that they are brave and bold, but also that their lives are the top priority. A small amount of backlash against this, based on countless grim dashcam and citizen videos, and the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in New York City, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and other high-profile incidents, and suddenly there’s a "war on cops" simply because a percentage of the public is upset. There were a handful of tragic ambush murders of officers in subsequent years, and that fed Trump, and fed his supporters as he happily pandered to them in their time of supposed need.

The crush wasn’t unrequited. The National Fraternal Order of Police, an organization that exists to defend police officers, no matter what, endorsed Trump for president. So did the Border Patrol. People who cheered for Trump, but remained unconcerned about domestic tyranny in the hands of Donald seemed to have ignored such things in favor of how satisfying it was when Trump ticked off neocon elites such as Bill Kristol, and sent the GOP into a tizzy.

Sadly, just because Trump has some of the right enemies, it doesn’t mean he is on the side of good. He recently okayed a disastrous raid in Yemen that lead to the death of an eight-year-old girl, and half a dozen other children. When people point this out, the president hides behind the Navy SEAL who died during the operation. Trump so far seems perfectly happy to continue to pal around with Saudi Arabia, and by extension help them with their brutal war in Yemen.

And earlier this month, in yet another spasm of executive power on behalf of law and order, Trump signed three orders relating to police. This was after Sen. Jeff Sessions was confirmed as attorney general, something that criminal justice reform advocates have been fearing ever since his name was suggested. In the ‘90s, Session was on that trendy bandwagon favored by Newt Gingrich types that said the death penalty for drug dealing was reasonable. Lately, Sessions has managed to be mostly horrible on criminal justice reform, as well as advocating for warmongering and spying.

But Trump himself is also bad on the issue. Not only did his executive orders contain vague threats that crimes against police could be punished more harshly than they are currently, but "if warranted, legislation defining new crimes of violence and establishing new mandatory minimum sentences for existing crimes of violence against Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers, as well as for related crimes."

Neither Trump nor his most ardent supporters seem to have gotten the message that crime, though on a slight uptick in the last few years, is still much, much lower than it was in the early ‘90s. The American people have a short attention span, but it would be discouraging if they had enough amnesia that they tired of criminal justice reform so long before it was finished being reformed.

Trump’s plan to build a fresh crop of immigration detention centers is another discouraging sign that his Nixonian law and order impulses have not been checked since his dour acceptance speech at the Republication National Convention; nor his apparent belief that the solution to cartels and drug dealers, and the violence that follows them, is to build a big wall, and that Border Patrol should be even more powerful than they already are.

America’s new president is all over the map on issues such as whether trusting Russia is good or bad. He has tetchy moods that blow with a wind only he can feel, and he hasn’t yet been worse on foreign policy than the last fellas. However, he is consistently in favor of law and order in the clunkiest, most archaic fashion. That and his multi-billion dollar plan to punish mostly peaceful, decent illegal immigrants are what he knows best, and what his fans seem to relish.

Every president that doesn’t invade Iran, or start a fresh boots on the ground war can be counted as a victory in the meanest, most miserly fashion. However, Trump’s first month in office, and his enthusiastic embrace of the worst policies he promised while running does not bode well for America, or for the rest of the world who may soon suffer from his whims.

Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com. She has also written for VICE, Playboy.com, the Washington Post.com, The American Conservative, and other outlets. Her blog is www.thestagblog.com. Follow her on twitter @lucystag.

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